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Pinellas board opts for national school chief search

LARGO — The Pinellas School Board set the stage for a quick leadership transition Friday, tentatively agreeing to a national search to replace superintendent Clayton Wilcox by the end of the summer break.

The board also said it wanted to appoint an interim superintendent as soon as possible. That person would work with Wilcox until he leaves for another job in early June, then steer the district through a summer already filled with big decisions.

Among the tasks the interim leader would tackle before the 2008-09 school year starts on Aug. 19:

• Cutting as much as $40-million from the budget.

• Negotiating a new contract with teachers that may not include raises.

• Completing the transition to a system of "close to home" schools.

• Launching a new busing plan that would change school start times.

The board hoped to meet next week with Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, to discuss the national search. The cost would be $6,000 plus expenses that Blanton says would not exceed $25,000. The expenses would include advertising nationally for the position and travel costs for the finalists to visit Pinellas.

Board members briefly debated the wisdom of paying for a superintendent search during such dire financial times.

"We may not be able to give our teachers raises this year," said board member Mary Brown, who supported hiring one of Wilcox's top deputies and keeping that person at the helm for awhile.

"(Wilcox) put good people in place who can do the job," she argued. "We're on a short leash for time and we are limited in our funding sources."

The board quickly dismissed the idea of doing the search without help. And no one wanted to pay the $40,000-to-$50,000 cost of hiring a national search firm.

But all except Brown favored hiring the school boards association, an organization to which they already pay annual dues. Several board members said it was appropriate for a district with a $1.5-billion budget to spend some money seeking a chief executive.

"I have no desire to throw money away, but doing something on the cheap is not necessarily going to get us the best candidate for the job," said board member Janet Clark.

In an interview this week, Blanton said he was confident his group could complete a national search in three months and that good candidates would respond.

He said he recently completed a superintendent search in Lake County and is finishing one in Osceola County. Both jobs attracted more than 40 applicants.

Blanton said about a dozen of those would be "A-plus-plus" superintendents. He said Florida districts seem to be attracting more superintendent candidates than they did three years ago.

"Even with all of our problems we're still an attractive state," he said. "As bad off as we are now, there are other states that are worse."

Board members briefly debated whether to leave the search to the School Board that will be seated in November after the fall elections. But only chairwoman Nancy Bostock supported that idea, saying it would help the new board and superintendent work better together.

A majority agreed with board member Jane Gallucci, who said spring and summer is the best time to get good superintendent candidates.

She added: "I can't imagine coming in here as a new board member having to learn about the district and then have to pick a new CEO."

The board could not agree on whether the interim superintendent should be allowed to apply for the permanent job. Some feared that if the interim turned out to be one of Wilcox's deputies, many outside candidates would hesitate to apply, thinking the interim had an advantage.

The issue creates an awkward situation since Pinellas deputy superintendents Julie Janssen and Harry Brown are the most obvious candidates to take the interim spot, yet both have said they want to compete for the permanent job.

Board member Peggy O'Shea said she feared the board could be limiting its options by keeping the interim out of the hunt. The board will resolve the question after meeting with Blanton.

Because the board met in a workshop Friday, it could make no formal decisions. But the discussion set up a series of votes at the board's next regular meeting, May 13.

That's when members hope to select an interim superintendent and release Wilcox from his contract effective June 3 or 4. The timetable allows him to participate in graduation ceremonies.

He will leave after that to take a job in New York with Scholastic Corp., the global children's book publisher.

A provision in Wilcox's contract requires him to give the district five months' notice before leaving. But with no discussion Friday, board members agreed to waive the provision.

Thomas C. Tobin can be reached at tobin@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8923.

>>FAST FACTS

What's next

• The Pinellas School Board meets next week with the Florida School Boards Association to discuss details of a superintendent search.

• The board votes May 13 to release superintendent Clayton Wilcox by early June and possibly select an interim replacement.

Pinellas board opts for national school chief search 04/26/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 28, 2008 10:08am]
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